An Echo of Jonestown

On December 31,2015 a journalist named Robert Flick died in a Pasadena California hospital after injuring his head in a fall.He was 84.He had been an action journalist covering controversy.He was struck on the head covering the riots in Watts and Berkeley in 1968 He also reported on Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army.On November 18,1978 Flick was wounded when Congressman Ryan,reporters,a congressional aide and would be Jonestown defectors were attacked by Jim Jones’henchmen at the airfield in Guyana.He survived and helped people hide in the jungle.(supplying rum for the injured aide).The head injury that he received in Guyana(he was wounded in the leg)was on the inside.He left NBC Nightly News two years post Jonestown and went to Entertainment Tonight and worked only in celebrity programs thereafter,avoiding the conflictual hard boiled stuff that marked his early years.Alienation and disaffection do not always lead to suicide or SLA/Isis type involvement.Those who are so certain of their mental toughness and political correctness might learn from this burly,tough guy correspondent that high functioning people can be reduced in function by the spectacle of mass suicide by those who cannot find a place in our society.

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12 Comments

  1. “Today, with demand for talent so high (no matter the body in which it is found), inequity of opportunity has little to do with racism and sexism. Diminished opportunity affects equally all those of every race or gender who fail to meet the demands of higher education,” writes Spencer, a frighteningly incorrect assessment.

    The aptitude, education, (privileged) ability to take ‘interests’, instead of focusing on survival on a daily level create an inherently unequal playing field, Mr. Spencer, from the start. Divisions are not geographic, and they are not entirely chosen. Success is circumstantial, not universal. When a black woman steps out into the streets of New York, I guarantee you the nature of her walk is viscerally disparate than that of a white male. If you think this distinct, sometimes hostile difference is unique to the sidewalk, you are mistaken. It invades workplaces and parlors, families and minds. Society is made up of inequities — this has always been and will always be. It is why we have created ‘society’ and maintained ‘civilization,’ to create equity where it is out of the natural order. This is the choice, sir, I mentioned in my last post. Still, the system is flawed. Affirmative action, racial, economic, or otherwise, is meant to counteract these flaws. We must maintain this ideal, it is the only vestige separating us from the jungle.

    As for Mr. Flick, I’d like to address the journalistic concept of objectivity as it relates to his seemingly declining interest in heavy conflict. As a journalist, I know the difficulty in attempting to separate one’s self, one’s mind, one’s work from the weight of violence or injustice, and the same difficulty can be found in simply attempting to crystallize a single man for a profile. These are not black and white characterizations, they are not principled boundaries strengthened by mental fortitude, professional morality or sheer muscle; they are areas of extreme gray, where truth and falsity fail, or refuse, to distinguish themselves, where complexity reigns and perspectives blur the line between ‘someone else’s life’ and ‘my life’. In this work, one has the acute ability to perceive himself on a greater scale, one which tilts with the tides of conflict and kilter of humanity, sometimes at its most extreme (war) and other times at its mundane (also war). Humans attempt to survive in both, however instant or protracted one’s choices, and the observation of these choices is the work of journalists, at least or particularly conflict reporters. It is also the journalists responsibility to convey this complex truth with the information they have acquired, inherently unique to their eyes, their ears and their understanding of humanity. It is, therefore, always a subjective judgement. To attempt to convince a reader that this is not, in fact, the case, that we have established impenetrable boundaries is a dangerous lie, to one’s self most of all. And when one, perhaps like Flick, closes his notebook at night, meets his deadline, it is he who is left to make sense of the chaos, or order as the case might be, he has seen. This is a lonely endeavor. It is an isolating one. And it compels in one a desire to communicate, to return into the fold with something to offer. If this is done under the guise of an ‘objective’ mandate, there is no relief, and the disillusionment that no one seems to bother worsens the alien condition. This is because what one wants to communicate is personal. Allow him this, and truth will reveal itself, in all its shades of gray.

    1. ThomasS: “The aptitude, education, (privileged) ability to take ‘interests’, instead of focusing on survival on a daily level create an inherently unequal playing field … from the start. Divisions are not geographic, and they are not entirely chosen. Success is circumstantial, not universal. When a black woman steps out into the streets of New York, I guarantee you the nature of her walk is viscerally disparate than that of a white male. If you think this distinct, sometimes hostile difference is unique to the sidewalk, you are mistaken.”

      Incisively true. To deny inherent differences is to fundamentally deny the uniqueness of the individual. And, to deny the combined role of circumstances is deliberate blindness. The reality is that dominance is part of human DNA … nature has implanted it as a means of survival. The stimuli are there for the brain to react to on two powerful exploitive visuals for domination: color of skin and gender.

      Paraphrasing one of Dr. David Eagleman’s lectures: “Our environment collaborates with our genes. Culture, ideas, belief systems … all variables interact with our brain. Our freedom is constrained by the world we happen to drop into. We are not the ones steering our lives. Is the conscious mind truly in control? Are decisions made independently? Do we have free will?”

      I believe that the above buttresses with ThomasS’s realistic assertion as to society being made up of inequities. However, just because it is so does not absolve us all to attempt to correct/steer those inequities. YES!, ThomasS: “We must maintain this ideal, it is the only vestige separating us from the jungle.” Amen!

      On the personal and collective repercussions of Jonestown …

      ThomasS: “… he who is left to make sense of the chaos, or order as the case might be, he has seen. This is a lonely endeavor. It is an isolating one. And it compels in one a desire to communicate, to return into the fold with something to offer.”

      These words have breathtaking depth. The compelling desire to communicate … share the soul’s experience. It’s unfortunate that it is frequently suspect. In the case of Flick, the nuanced question (as in “unable to adjust” due to “personal weakness”) appears:

      DS: “‘Are those who cannot find a place in our society’ themselves mostly responsible for their inability, or is society to blame?”

      Does anyone ask “how much can the psyche take?” It has all the elements of a bucket of ice water being thrown in one’s face … especially because there is a history/pattern here of choices being absolutely defined … black or white … no gray qualifies. DS v. DS (concept borrowed from Stephen Colbert) … a very small example:

      DS: “Unjustified certitudes (mental toughness and political correctness among them) need to be avoided.”

      Or …

      DS: “Sometimes there is a fundamental conflict where a basic form of logic may provide a high degree of certitude.”

      Is the certainty of absolutism blissfully numbing? Who is the arbiter of the “certitude?” Chauncey Gardiner or Forrest Gump? And, the empirical evidence envelope, please!

      ThomasS: “… truth will reveal itself, in all its shades of gray.”

      The eloquence of acknowledged honesty. Truth contained in shades of gray.

      Gloria Steinem was a guest on HBO’s “Real a Time with Bill Maher” last Friday (the closing New Rule was worthy of honorable mention!). Steinem noted that, as we get older, men tend to become more conservative (power) … women more liberal (assessing/discovering). In her defense of tolerance … in this case, against Maher’s rigid views towards Islam … Steinem found ironic that she was defending a form of monotheism … recognizing that monotheism, in all its “varieties,” being the strongest enforcer of intolerance. Steinem remains very alluring … even at 81 (cruel societal comment). A sexist remark? Guilty! But, every bit a compliment!

      I do find men show their insecurities more ruthlessly in counter-punching women: blood coming out of their whatever, post-menopausal reaction, or, act your age. (Trump, anyone … the standard bearer?) Women are not as sanguine (no pun intended) towards men’s looks or behavior: balding, pudgy, rude personal behavior. For the most part, they stick to the mind … and issues.

      To ignore or not to ignore? To remain silent or to speak out? Those are some of the questions … and I acknowledge them as self-imposed challenges.

      P. S. I believe there is art interest in this forum. Though from the “mundane” HuffingtonPost, the below article might be nice:
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/art-history-ap-test-women-of-color_us_56b39759e4b04f9b57d8c1db?utm_hp_ref=arts

    2. Earlier I presented (perhaps awkwardly) a statement claiming that in the U.S. inequity of opportunity had little to do with race or gender. The dominant factor today in such inequity is the aptitude, or lack of aptitude, to meet the demands of higher education. Those of any race or gender who meet those demands tend to do well. Those of any race or gender who fail to meet those demands tend to do poorly. I think that it is this idea that ThomasS believes to be (frighteningly) incorrect.
      This is an important issue to get right. I am positing that factors other than racism and sexism play by far the greater role in driving the processes with which our citizens find themselves achieving “less” and “more”. If this premise is correct, the path to our best future requires that we prioritize giving attention to these other factors and stop doing harm by neglecting the real causes, blaming that which is not causative, and blaming unjustly those who are not responsible. “Coming Apart” is a recent book by Harvard social scientist Charles Murray that describes the processes by which U.S. society is transforming itself into divided levels of opportunity and achievement. Empirical evidence, math, and logic, demonstrate that race and gender differences are not the driving force.
      ThomasS writes, “The aptitude, education, (privileged) ability to take ‘interests’, instead of focusing on survival on a daily level create an inherently unequal playing field, Mr. Spencer, from the start.” I have stated many times that there never has been nor will there ever be “an equal playing field”. (Though we can treat individuals equally under the law.) My point has been that the greatest inequities are imposed by nature. About this there is little that can be done. I see evidence that efforts to make amends for nature’s “unfairness” often create more problems than they solve – which brings us to:
      ThomasS writes, “Society is made up of inequities — this has always been and will always be. It is why we have created ‘society’ and maintained ‘civilization,’ to create equity where it is out of the natural order.” I am wondering, from what did this idea materialize? What source ordained “equity” to be the primary basis, the main reason for the existence of civilization? And another mystery presents itself. How does one come to know the “natural order”? It looks like ThomasS is presenting a religious or religious-like belief. Is this belief an idea based only in a good feeling? Consider that there are many needs that are satisfied when people gather together and create agreements as to how they are to behave toward one another (civilization). Equality is only one of many necessary agreements, and this principle is problematic given that there are two contradictory forms of “equity” (equity of opportunity and equity of result). If we truly want the best for humanity, we need to understand which of these interpretations should prevail when orchestrated with the many other important principles of behavior that hopefully enhance the survivability of the human race. Equal opportunity given to a citizenry possessed of unequal aptitudes will favor those endowed by nature with the better aptitudes. This results in great invention and productivity (which benefits all by providing greater access to more product). It also results in an unequal distribution of wealth. Equalizing distributions of product will require a powerful redistributionist government capable of forcing (taxation is one form of force) the able to produce for those who are less able. The tendency is that less will be invented and produced, but that lesser amount will be more equally distributed. So this appears to be the question before us: Are we to sacrifice the life-saving benefits of greater invention and productivity so that we can worship a good feeling that is evoked by a religious-like mandate – “From each according to ability – to each according to need”?

      1. What is this “natural order” of which you speak with such certainty?Can you be missing the point that it is power that militates advantage in the form of access of opportunity? This occurs long before aptitude can be tested.(And,the effect is lasting!)The predictive certainty of what course is optimal for the betterment of mankind is also a power transaction and although we agree that the path of Isis cannot be it,force ultimately is the final disabuser.In the meantime the battle for minds goes on.The projected certitude of the powerful as to what is best for America and the mistaken notion that this can be divorced,long term,from what’s best for a non rabid world is allowing the rabid to capture minds and bodies.There is a measure of uncertainty(not Heisenberg’s but related)that goes with freedom and admittedly,with it,some risk.You spoke of unjustified certitude being undesirable.Is this not of that Ilk?

        1. Response to Daedal2207 (10 Feb 2016)
          My only mention of “natural order” was in a response directed at ThomasS’s statement that implied that she (and others) knew the meaning of the term. “And another mystery presents itself. How does one come to know the “natural order”?” I presented it as a mystery which is the opposite of the “certitude” you claim I have employed. Indeed, my main point was that a claim that one “knows” the natural order of things must be a leap of (religious-like) faith given the many cosmological possibilities. In other words, a claim to know the big picture “natural order of things” is yet another example of unjustified certitude. One reason we tend to do this sort of thing: When we want logic to lead us to a particular answer it is tempting to select (or invent) the premises that support that conclusion, and ignore those possibilities that do not. Even very bright minds can succumb to the temptations of using biasing premises in order to lead to enhanced desirable beliefs AND THE FEELINGS THAT THEY GENERATE.
          The tools of science give us our most secure footing. Testing the empirical evidence, the use of excellent math and logic, maximize the probabilities that what we believe is true may actually be true. Science is not certitude, it is probability. Our job is to do this probability thing well.
          It takes power to move spoon to mouth. It is essential to life. Without “power” absolutely nothing can be made to happen. Given that its use is unavoidable, our concerns should be about its appropriate and inappropriate use. Our Constitution was designed as an effort to guide us such that the distributions of power would result in the greatest benefit for all our citizens. By specifying limited and divided powers (and responsibilities) for government it shifted greater power (and responsibilities) to the INDIVIDUAL citizen. (To be deemed responsible also means that one then possesses a dignity that has real meaning.) The attempt is to provide for its individual citizens the greatest freedom from being forced – put another way, to have the greatest freedom of choice (self-determination -self-guidance). Free market economics that employ the power of trillions of individual judgments (willing buyers and willing sellers) were deemed to be a more efficient way to provide for material needs than could a central control government system. It worked extremely well!
          A Bill of Rights was created and our limited government was to protect these rights for each and every citizen equally (no matter their group affiliations). The fact that individuals and groups can employ myriad forms of psychological power (for both good and for ill) is not something a limited government can well address. Government too is subject to corruptions in the use of power. Creating a government that is powerful enough to dictate the many flavors of “acceptable” psychological power pushes it toward dangerous, totalitarian levels.

  2. Unjustified certitudes (mental toughness and political correctness among them) need to be avoided. Unknowns need to be acknowledged and factored into the probabilities.
    Did this life voyage of Robert Flick display a “reduction in function” or just a change of function? Are “those who cannot find a place in our society” themselves mostly responsible for their inability, or is society to blame? If we truly want to create the better future, it seems that this is a primary question that needs truthful examination. Sometimes there is a fundamental conflict where a basic form of logic may provide a high degree of certitude. For instance, what if “those who cannot find a place in our society (of religious freedom) see “their place” as needing sharia law (the opposite of religious freedom)? Sometimes it is the group that is dysfunctional, needs to improve itself (or be improved), and it is not a problem with the greater “society” or the environment. The society that provides the greatest number of healthy “niches” for diverse interests is likely to be the best. But it needs to be recognized that the best is not magically able to serve all interests. The greater society should be interested in serving best the future of humanity. We need to recognize and protect against dysfunctional groups who threaten this important function.

    1. Groups that threaten the future of mankind no longer need to be of vast size or occupiers of vast territories,making the task of policing more difficult than ever.The battle over individual minds is thus more critical than ever.The fact that a Jonestown could be created where so many chose death must be of concern,Those who knew Robert Flick indicate that he was a wounded warrior who chose to retreat from the spectacle of human striving for survival and meaning into a sanctum santorum of trivial pursuit.
      Serving all interests does not mean they must be equally served but it should mean that concern for differences be discernibly expressed.Devine’s kingdoms,Jonestown, Cult Dravidian,SLA etc. are homegrown products not likely to contain the inner angst that is resulting in defections to ISL.The other side of the coin is the anger that Trump is tapping into which does not fit a model of concern for constitutional principles,Inequity of opportunity appears to be operating on all sides of the disaffection issue.

      1. We can understand that perceived, and real inequities of opportunity foment dissatisfactions. Why is there inequity? What inequities are impossible to rectify? What realistically can be done about it? There are problems on the supply side and on the demand side.
        There are forms of “inequity” that are impossible to correct. Nature gave us all life, but nature did not give us equal abilities with which to conduct that life. We can try to structure government to (compassionately) make amends for the unfairness of nature. There are benefits for all when we tap the skills of every person, no matter how minimal, but if in this effort we empower government to turn productive incentives upside-down we quickly confront a variety of costs (economic and social) that shift into diminished returns. This is when “compassion” turns deadly. Hopefully we would prioritize doing good (which is measurable) over poorly-examined, feel-good sentiments. (The book, “Losing Ground”, 1984, measurably demonstrated the harm that many well-intended welfare programs had caused in the period 1950-1980.)
        Today in our country we see diminishing niches in which our population’s vast range of aptitudes can find rewarding occupations. Government regulations on all levels have become more complicated. Increasingly, government-imposed mandates on new businesses are not only complex to navigate, but expensive.
        Government, by expanding minimum wage regulations makes it less likely that those with low skills will be economically viable for on-the-job training. Relatively easy welfare has allowed many to choose not to work, and easier to delay the effort. Interference by government in the fundamental operations of a free market have produced inefficiencies that have greatly reduced the ability of our economy to create an expanding diversity of occupational niches.
        Today, with demand for talent so high (no matter the body in which it is found), inequity of opportunity has little to do with racism and sexism. Diminished opportunity affects equally all those of every race or gender who fail to meet the demands of higher education. The statistical analysis of our society depicted in “Coming Apart” clarified the fact that no matter race; it is aptitude, education, and our gravitation to those with similar interests (dysfunctions and functions) and abilities (high and low) that is creating the major divisions (geographic and social) between those who succeed (find and make opportunities) and those who do not.
        Maintaining maximum societal harmony with a maximum spread of opportunity is an immense problem. But how can good-feeling “solutions” which measurably discourage the best producers and simultaneously encourage attitudes of entitlement among the non-producers be a formula for anything but diminishment?

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